The Making of a Bespoke Court Cupboard

Detail of C17th style oak cupboard

Detail of the finished cupboard - careful recreation of the distressing and patina demonstrates the skills of our crafstmen. Read the full story below...

1. Initial Inspiration

Our clients fall for a magnificent C17th antique oak court cupboard. They admire everything about the piece, the carved detail and turned posts, the aged iron hinges and wooden toggles, the initials and date carved into the top canopy, the way the shelf has bowed over the centuries, the deep patina and richness of colour of the oak. The only problem is that it is too big for their kitchen!

Original C17th oak court cupboard

 

2. The Commission

Our clients commission an exact copy of the court cupboard, but request that the overall width is reduced by roughly half. A quick sketch is drawn, to check proportions will work with the reduction in width. Bespoke furniture commissions are our speciality and our draughtsmen prepare the technical drawings required for the manufacture of the piece. Accurate measurements are marked and any relevant notes added. The construction of the original antique is replicated exactly.

Drawing detail

 

3. Finalising Design Details

We discuss the possibility of incorporating our clients' initials into their new cupboard, to mirror the design of the original. It is possible the original cupboard was a dowry item and the carved initials are those of husband and wife and the date (1625) the year of their union.

Design for carved initials

 

4. Hand Turning

With full size drawings issued to our workshops just 8 miles away, the making begins. Kiln dried oak is sawn by a craftsman into the shapes specified on the technical drawing. It is important that the oak is kiln dried to minimise the risk of cracking and splitting after the cupboard is joined together.

Several different craftsmen work on the cupboard. Our Wood-Turner shapes the turned posts on the lathe using sharp chisels, carefully replicating the originals. He has studied the original for the inconsistencies and marks consummate with hand turned items, and replicates these exactly.

Turned oak

 

5. Hand Carving

Our carvers recreate the designs of the original by hand. They have studied each chisel mark on the antique to ensure their new work is as faithful to the original as possible.

Carved oak panel

 

6. Joining the Oak

All the individual timber parts are collected on our Joiner's bench. The Joiner uses traditional methods to construct the cupboard, replicating each joint of the original in the same way. Dry mortice and tenon peg joints mean there is no need to use glue of any kind. He cleverly manipulates the timber for the shelf and canopy, replicating the subtle bow - a key feature of the original. Any ironwork required, including nails and hinges, has been hand-forged and aged by our blacksmith.

Joining the oak

 

7. Polishing and Distressing the Oak

When the Joiner has completed the construction of the piece, the cupboard enters our polishing shop. Until now its state is known as ‘in the white' - the oak is in its natural dried state and is of its natural ‘white' colour. Our Finisher is responsible for staining and polishing the wood to the correct colour. He also works on the ‘distressing' or antiquing of the piece.

The aim of distressing, is to carefully replicate all the knocks and scratches found on an antique, to simulate centuries of wear and tear. It is a skill that can only be mastered after working closely with original antiques over many years and understanding how their environment and care affects their appearance.

Detail of the carved oak panel

Carved oak

 

8. Finishing

The finishing process is crucial to the final appearance of the cupboard and our Finisher has spent decades perfecting his secret techniques. He stains the oak with a water-based colour that is carefully mixed and applied by hand to ensure the end result will be an exact match of the original.

Thin coats of polish are applied one by one, each making a subtle difference to the finish, until the desired patina is achieved. Some areas require a darker finish, some lighter - the finisher's expertise is demonstrated when he knows what depth of colour to use on which area of the piece. Many thin coats are far more effective than one thick coat, which would suffocate and swamp the natural beauty of the timber.

It is easy to spot if the finishing process for a piece of oak furniture has been hurried or rushed, so the Finisher works carefully and methodically to achieve the quality desired. Finally, a coating of natural beeswax is applied and the whole cupboard is buffed. Further waxing and polishing in the years to come will continue to build the patina, and enrich the beauty of the grain of the oak.

Finishing the oak cupboard

 

9. The Finished Piece

With this particular original antique, it is interesting to note the colour of the oak varies quite noticeably from top to bottom - the lower legs are much paler, where moisture has crept up over the centuries and caused the colour to become dull and dry looking. It was important to replicate even the negative effects of age for the new piece.